Uncanny Repetition, Trauma, and Displacement in Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days

in Critical Survey
Author:
Aris Mousoutzanis Kingston University A.Mousoutzanis@brighton.ac.uk

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Michael Cunningham’s most recent novel, Specimen Days, was bound to be compared to his previous work, The Hours. Reviewers and readers alike could easily identify the numerous similarities between the two texts: both novels were made up of three narratives set at different historical periods but with very similar if not related characters and themes, and a major literary figure haunting their background – Virginia Woolf in The Hours and Walt Whitman in Specimen Days. Lucas, Catherine, and Simon are the three main characters of Cunningham’s latest novel, caught up in similar relationships across three different stories of death and rebirth, trauma and recovery, sacrifice and transcendence.Ahistorical fiction, a police crime thriller, and a science fiction text, the three stories are all set in New York, tied together with recurring symbols and motifs: a white porcelain bowl, a music box, a white horse, the date 21 June, the angel statue at Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. For a novel that took its creator eight years to complete, Specimen Days seemed to some critics to be short of inspiration. Not only was the novel repeating themes, images, and characters within its own three novellas, but it was also repeating patterns from Cunningham’s previous book.

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